By Joe Beck
WINCHESTER -- Former employees and customers of Russell Ebersole's Aberdeen Acres testified Thursday in Frederick County Circuit Court that dogs suffered physical injuries and psychological trauma during their stays at the kennel.
One former employee, Renee Waldron, described how one dog that began his time at the kennel as "a very playful puppy" was behaving very differently within a few weeks.
"He would not approach the front of the cage," Waldron said of the dog. "He would cower back. He was very scared."
Ebersole, 53, is on trial for 13 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty in a two-day bench trial that is scheduled to conclude Friday before Circuit Judge Clifford L. "Clay" Athey Jr.
Authorities accuse Ebersole of committing the alleged offenses at Aberdeen Acres, a pet care center he operates at 667 Walters Mill Lane in Stephenson.
Ebersole appeared in court with his attorney, Roger Inger, of Winchester, and Zane, a German Shepherd service dog who spent much of Thursday morning lying flat on the courtroom floor snoozing through the witnesses' testimony.
The prosecution and defense are scheduled to call 15 witnesses other than Ebersole.
In his opening argument, Inger told Athey "the only expert in this case who knows anything about training dogs is Mr. Ebersole."
Ebersole's training techniques were acceptable for "vicious, aggressive dogs and that's what Mr. Ebersole was being asked to do" by the customers, Inger added.
Former customers testified they had not seen Ebersole training their dogs in person, but they described physical afflictions and behavioral changes that made them suspect the dogs had been mistreated while they stayed at the kennel.
Under questioning by Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Andrew M. Robbins, Melody Harris said her female pit bull, Storm, "was out of control" after being taken home from the kennel in October 2011.
"She had burn marks on her neck," Harris testified. "The hair was gone, and her eyes were red. They were bloodshot red."
Harris said her dog lost control of her bodily functions. The dog urinated "everywhere" Harris said, something that had not been a problem before her stay at the kennel. Storm also appeared newly fearful, Harris said.
"You could see it in her eyes," Harris testified. "It was weird."
Under cross examination by Inger, Harris admitted she could not be certain of who or what caused the red marks on her dog.
Waldron also admitted she had not seen Ebersole actually training any dogs during her 11/2-month stint at the kennel.
But Emily Cleveland, a former trainer at Aberdeen Acres, said she was disturbed by what she saw of Ebersole's handling of a poodle she estimated weighed two to four pounds.
Cleveland said she saw the dog, Abbie, try to escape from Ebersole several times by running down a flight of steps. The dog was trying to escape from a shock collar that Ebersole had placed around her neck, Cleveland testified.
Each time, Cleveland testified, Ebersole would catch up to the dog and throw her back up the steps, sending her splayed on all four legs and skidding across the floor.
"She was screaming, what I would call screaming, if a dog can scream," Cleveland said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org